nico shumpert photo by greg rannells

Ones to Watch 2020 // Nico Shumpert

Nico Shumpert, private chef and influencer
Age // 30
Why Watch Him // He aims to the be the new face of St. Louis culinary classes.

Nico Shumpert has a lot of ideas. From private dinners to pop-ups, social media series to YouTube cooking tutorials, this young chef is working hard to get noticed.  

“I get it – like, ‘A jack-of-trades is a master of none,’” he said. “But at the same time, if you finish the quote, it’s ‘Often better than a master of one.’ I’d rather have value in that sense.” 

That’s why Shumpert left Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co. after four years helping to open new cafes. “Kaldi’s was nice, it was stable, but it wasn’t scratching that itch for me,” Shumpert said. “I feel stuck in the confines of a restaurant. I just want to be able to stretch my legs and do whatever I want.” 

Shumpert estimates he’s been part of about 50 pop-up dinners and private events in the past three years. The rejection he faces cold-calling potential locations doesn’t deter him. “I go in, set up, execute and, most of the time, I’m invited back. It’s been great,” he said. 

He talks about his efforts – from editing YouTube videos to learning how to cook blowfish – with an indefatigable cheerfulness. It’s a quality that continues to impress his former boss and mentor, Kaldi’s director of culinary development Frank McGinty, who said he believes Shumpert’s confidence and determination will make him successful when he decides on a direction.

He still calls on Shumpert any time he needs last-minute help with an event because Shumpert can jump into any situation and lead a kitchen. Most importantly, though, his food is good. 

Shumpert has thrown a lot of ideas against the wall since leaving Kaldi’s, but he’s ready for his new project to stick. “My end goal is to have a private kitchen where I can do intimate cooking classes,” he said. 

He is starting this month with hands-on classes at the Brentwood Community Center, hoping to be a new face for culinary classes, attracting a different, younger audience than places like Kitchen Conservatory. 

“I don’t know of any young, Black chefs doing any of this,” he said. “Millennials don’t know how to cook, but they’re curious. They spend more time on YouTube and on their phone trying to learn how to do things. You can order Blue Apron and all that stuff, but people actually still enjoy having somebody show them how to do it. That right there is the atmosphere and the experience I want to create.” 

Heather Hughes Huff is managing editor at Sauce Magazine. 

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